Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Face of Defense: Togo Native Returns to Africa as U.S. Soldier

By Air Force Senior Airman Jarad A. Denton
Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa

CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti, Oct. 5, 2011 – During a recent civil affairs mission through Djibouti, Army Reserve Cpl. Kwami Koto – information manager for Civil Affairs Team 4902 here -- was able to articulate his connection to the African continent and its people.

"You see those kids playing soccer barefoot?" he asked his team chief as their vehicle passed by children running around on a dirt field. "That used to be me."

Koto, a resident of Denton, Texas, was born in Togo, a nation in West Africa. In the wake of a military coup d'etat and cultural turmoil nearly 10 years ago, he and his wife fled their homeland as political refugees to seek asylum in the United States.

"Human rights in Togo were being systematically violated," he said. "As a journalist, I started writing about it, denouncing the military regime's abuses."

Koto and his family began to receive death threats. He weighed his options carefully: stay in Togo and likely be killed while reporting on the unfolding situation, or flee to America.

"I chose the latter," he said.

After coming to the United States, Koto went to work as a program manager for a marketing company. He attended graduate school in his free time, earning his master's degree in journalism in the spring of 2005. Four years ago, Koto decided to demonstrate his pride for his adoptive country and enlisted in the Army Reserve.

"It is a pride not only for myself, but for my family -- my parents and my entire hometown back in Togo," he said. "They are all proud to have a son who serves in the most prestigious, and by far the best, Army in the world."

Army Reserve officials decided Koto was best suited to build relationships with villages and government leaders throughout the Horn of Africa. To him, the journey has been an astonishing one.

"Thirty-five years ago, I was playing here as a kid -- kicking an orange because we couldn't afford a soccer ball," he said as a proud smile grew on his face. "Now I wear the uniform of a U.S. Army soldier. I never could have imagined it years ago. It's indescribable, the feeling I get when I travel to African villages and help bring about change."

As an Army civil affairs soldier, Koto said, returning to Africa has been a life-changing event for him.

"I had seen Americans before, when I was in Togo," he said. "I learned English from a Peace Corps teacher. I never forgot those lessons or the interactions I had with the Americans. I make sure to treat the people I meet now the way I want them to remember me."

Civil affairs soldiers assess and engage local leaders at both the village and government levels. They build relationships with the people through a spirit of cooperation facilitated by African leaders.

Army Reserve Capt. Justin Lev, chief of Team 4902, said having Koto on the team has been invaluable.

"From Day One, he's been working with us on understanding the African people," Lev said. "The reason we are able to work so well with them is because of Koto."

Lev added that Koto brings a unique perspective on Africa's potential to the team’s mission.

"The African people are very resilient to live the way they live. They are happy with what they have," Koto said. "However, I constantly wrestle with the way some of the African people accept their situation without trying to improve it. Every living thing has to grow and evolve. Africa, after 50 years of independence, is ready to move to the next stage of its development."

Koto said African development must begin with its people, noting that an infrastructure cannot be built if the people are living in squalor. The first step, he said, is to build long-term, positive relationships with the people of Africa. Whether meeting with a village elder, working with local residents to put up buildings or playing soccer with the children of Djibouti, Koto explained, he would love for people in the United States to see Africa the way he sees it.

"This is a land of opportunity," he said. "Africa presents people with both an opportunity to help and an opportunity to learn. Just like all the opportunities we have in the United States, the ones here should not be taken for granted."

Lev said working in civil affairs with Koto and seeing those opportunities presented on a daily basis has changed the way he views the world.

"When we travel to these villages, we see real examples of people living in extreme poverty," he said. "All of the standards we have in the United States don't apply here, but the people are happy. It really shows that happiness is achievable no matter what you have or where you are."

With another smile, Koto acknowledged what his commander said. As an American, who earned his citizenship in February 2009, he has strong and passionate feelings for both his home and adopted countries.

"I love Africa," he said. "I love it in the same way I love the United States: with my whole heart."

Panetta: Egypt Making Good Progress on Transition

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

CAIRO, Oct. 4, 2011 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here today that he has full confidence in Egypt’s ability to transform itself to a civilian-led democracy following 26 years of being ruled under a dissent-suppressing emergency law.

Speaking at a news briefing following meetings with Egyptian leaders, Panetta said such a transition would be a “tremendous signal” to the region about moving in a positive direction.

“I really do have full confidence in the process that the Egyptian military is overseeing,” the secretary said, referring to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, a body of senior officers led by Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi.

The council assumed power in Egypt on Feb. 11 after protesters forced the resignation of long-time president Hosni Mubarak during the early days of the ongoing Egyptian revolution.

“I think they’re making good progress [and] I expressed my personal appreciation for their role in helping the Egyptian people … transition to a new political future that includes free and fair elections,” Panetta said.

The council made important decisions in the past few days in response to popular concerns about several issues, a senior U.S. defense official said today during a read out of Panetta’s meetings with Tantawi, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and Maj. Gen. Murad Muwafi, director of Egypt’s General Intelligence Services.

The decisions included a commitment to lift the emergency law, which the military held in place even after protesters left the streets. The Supreme Council last month made changes to the law, but did not abolish it.

Although the council hasn’t actually used the law since it assumed power, the defense official said, “having the emergency law still in effect would cast a shadow over the election process. That’s why [Defense Department officials have] urged council members to lift it as soon as possible, and certainly before the elections take place.”

The council also agreed to end the practice of trying civilians in military courts, he added, and is planning to move ahead with the development of constitutional principles that will serve as a framework for the subsequent work of drafting a constitution.

One-third of seats in the future parliament will be individual mandates, the defense official said, referring to an agreement by the council to allow people who are members of political parties to join to offset the perceived advantage that otherwise would have gone to people from Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.

“We came away with the impression that the Egyptian leadership is clearly determined to transfer power back to civilian rule,” the senior defense official said, “but the timetable going forward beyond election dates that have been announced for the lower and upper houses of parliament is still not clear.”

Elections for the lower house will be held in late November, the upper house in January, and the new parliament will be seated sometime in March, Panetta said.

Afterward, a committee will be appointed to revise the constitution. Once that is in place, a presidential election will be held, he added.

In Panetta’s meeting with Tantawi, the field marshal discussed another recent decision of the council to accept international witnesses to observe the upcoming elections, and to continue to consult with major political groups to create the conditions under which new political parties might form.

On the defense relationship, Panetta expressed support for the continued development and modernization of the Egyptian armed forces and urged the Egyptians to make the best use of their U.S. foreign military financing by more clearly defining requirements and capabilities geared toward current threats.

“It is firmly in America’s interest to provide the Egyptian military the support it needs to confront shared threats and help further regional security and stability,” the secretary said.

With Tantawi and the other leaders, the secretary discussed concerns about the situation in the Sinai Peninsula.

Threats in the region continue, Panetta said, along with continuing efforts to deal with terrorism, concerns over nuclear proliferation, and continued turbulence along the border.

Tantawi assured Panetta of the military’s commitment to deal with potential instability there and with extremism in the region.

“The Egyptian military has worked with the Israelis to get exceptions to limits under the peace treaty so they can produce additional army units,” Panetta said.

“They’re taking advantage of Israeli flexibility on that score,” the secretary added, “so we’re encouraged that they’re going to beef up capabilities there to try to reduce the likelihood of future incidents.”

The United States is ready to help the Egyptians if they need technical assistance to strengthen border security, he said.

Panetta also urged the Egyptians, as he did a day earlier during meetings with Israeli leaders, that the Egyptian and Israeli governments strengthen their communication and consultations on Sinai security and border security.

“Anything the United States can do to work with both of them to promote that kind of relationship I think would be in the interest of the security of this area,” he said.

The secretary underscored with Tantawi and Muwafi -- with whom Panetta worked in his former role as CIA director -- the department’s desire to strengthen counterterrorism cooperation on a bilateral level.

Economically, the defense official said, the Egyptians were asking the Defense Department to do more to encourage foreign investment by letting potential investors know that security conditions in the North African nation have improved.

“This has been a remarkable year for the Egyptian people,” Panetta said, “and I have the deepest respect for their bravery and their commitment to bringing about the important change that we’re seeing.”

In establishing a new democracy, he added, “I believe Egypt will not only remain pivotal in this region, but can be very key to establishing similar democracies throughout this area.”

U.S. Soldier MIA from Korean War Identified

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of a serviceman, missing in action from the Korean War, have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

Army Cpl. Edward M. Pedregon of El Paso, Texas, will be buried on Oct. 6 in Arlington National Cemetery.  A memorial service was held in San Elizario, Texas, on Oct. 1.  In late November 1950 Pedregon and the Heavy Mortar Company, of the 31st Regimental Combat Team – known as Task Force Faith – were overrun by Chinese forces near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea.  After several days of heavy attacks, Task Force Faith was forced to withdraw, but was stopped by enemy blockades that overpowered them on Dec. 2, 1950.  Pedregon was reported missing in action on Nov. 30, 1950.

In 1953, following the exchange of all prisoners of war by both sides of the conflict, no further information was gained to indicate that Pedregon had been held as a prisoner of war, and he was declared dead.

In 2004, a joint U.S./Korean People’s Army team excavated several sites in the Chosin Reservoir area and recovered the remains of at least nine individuals and military equipment.  The location of the remains corresponds to the positions temporarily held by elements of Task Force Faith in late November 1950.

Among forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory used dental records, and mitochondrial DNA – which matched that of Pedregon’s mother and brother—in the identification of the remains.

For additional information on the Defense Department’s mission to account for missing Americans, visit the DPMO website at or call 703-699-1169.

Adjutant general receives second star in official ceremony

The Adjutant General is an Iraq War veteran.  Discover these Second Gulf War books written by other Operation Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn veterans.

Wisconsin National Guard Public Affairs Office

Gov. Scott Walker formally promoted the adjutant general of Wisconsin to the rank of major general during an Oct. 3 ceremony at the State Capitol in Madison. Walker officially promoted Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar in August. However, it is a tradition for the governor to promote Wisconsin National Guard general officers with a formal ceremony at the capitol.

"I am honored to continue this tradition here today," Walker said, "and to officially bestow the rank of major general to an outstanding senior officer of the Wisconsin National Guard."

Several people took part in Dunbar's pinning ceremony. Walker and Dunbar's wife, Colleen, pinned the major general rank on Dunbar's jacket, while Dunbar's father Phil and mother-in-law Ida Donegan put the new two-star shoulder boards on his epaulets. His sister Margie Wildason pinned the rank on his hat.

Dunbar thanked family and friends for attending and for participating, noting that it made the event more meaningful. He also mentioned two special people who could not attend - his mother, Peggy, and his father-in-law, Buzz Donegan (USMC) - both of whom passed away in 2009.

He concluded his brief remarks by praising the Wisconsin National Guard and the work they do for our state and nation. "It is a privilege to be the adjutant general and serve the men and women of the Wisconsin National Guard," he explained. "I pledge that I will do my very best not to let them down."

Since becoming the state's 30th adjutant general on Sept. 1, 2007, Dunbar has deployed more than 6,000 Soldiers and Airmen in support of the global war on terror including the historic deployment of the entire 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team to Iraq in 2009. In addition to commanding the Wisconsin National Guard, the adjutant general oversees the state's homeland security advisor.

Since 2007, Dunbar has led Wisconsin through five separate Stafford Act emergencies. He also serves as vice chair of the FEMA National Advisory Council and was a member of the Local, State, Tribal and Federal Preparedness Task Force which presented a preparedness report to Congress in 2010.

Dunbar began his military career in 1983 and completed pilot training in 1985. He has served as KC-135 functional manager at the National Guard Bureau, staff member for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, executive officer to the director of the Air National Guard, and commander of the 141st Operations Group.

In 2005 he became commander of the 128th Air Refueling Wing, Wisconsin Air National Guard, at General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee. There he commanded more than 900 Airmen and was responsible for maintaining worldwide unit readiness.

Dunbar has volunteered for and deployed on contingency missions including Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and Northern Watch. A native of Drexel Hill, Penn., Dunbar and his wife Colleen reside in New Berlin.

Makin Island ARG Ships Support 11th MEU Counter-Piracy Training

The USS Makin Island was named after a World War Two battle.  Discover these World War Two books written by heroes who fought across Europe, Africa, and the Pacific.

From Amphibious Squadron 5 Public Affairs

USS MAKIN ISLAND, At Sea (NNS) -- Ships assigned to the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) served as the key platform for counter-piracy training conducted Oct. 1 by the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit during a certification exercise (CERTEX) off the coast of Southern California.

Led by Commander, Amphibious Squadron Five (PHIBRON 5), the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8) and the amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18) were the launching platforms for air and surface assets that allowed a Marine maritime raid force to re-take a simulated pirated vessel.

"The safety and economic interests of the United States and our allies and partner nations depend on unimpeded trade across the world's oceans," said Capt. Humberto Quintanilla, PHIBRON 5 commander. "This Navy/Marine Corps exercise demonstrates our ability to execute anti-piracy tactics while conducting broader scope maritime security operations."

Quintanilla said that effective maritime security requires a comprehensive international effort that promotes global economic stability through the protection of vital ocean commerce. Hostile or illegal acts on the high seas must collectively be stopped.

"Our Navy and Marine Corps team plays a critical role in facilitating international maritime security cooperation," said Quintanilla. "Global maritime security can only be achieved through the unity of international and regional maritime integration, awareness, and response initiatives."

During the exercise, two AH-1Z Viper helicopters and two UH-1Y Venom helicopters were launched from Makin Island. CH-46E helicopters and a small boat were launched from New Orleans as part of the raid.

Once on board the cargo vessel ATLS, Marines searched the ship, apprehended actors playing the role of pirates, seized automatic weapons and returned control of the vessel to the ship's crew.

"This is the type of joint mission that improves interoperability and provides the MEU with an exceptional maritime raid capability," said Gunnery Sgt. Jonathan Compton, the maritime raid force's first sergeant. "The Marines decisive and thorough actions enabled them to complete their task and conduct a successful mission."

The Makin Island ARG is scheduled for a routine deployment later this year.

Commissioned in 2009, Makin Island is the Navy's newest amphibious assault ship capable of utilizing surface and air assets to move Marine forces ashore. The ship is named in honor of the daring World War II raid carried out by Marine Raider Companies A and B, Second Raider Battalion, on Japanese held Makin Island Aug. 17-18, 1942. LHD 8 is the second ship to bear the name USS Makin Island.